As is common in Santa Fe, jewelry designer Fernando Gutierrez didn't intend to stay when he came to visit—but six months later, here he is. On a friend's recommendation, Gutierrez visited in July to check out the International Folk Art Market. He was quickly swept up by the vortex.
Today, Gutierrez spends much of his time at World of Bohemia (73 W Marcy St., 646-510-2882), an eclectic boutique where he sells his pieces. This is how we met recently, and during my visit I was immediately drawn to his table covered in gigantic jaguar heads and Mayan masks carved from stone and hanging on thick beaded ropes; his hefty rings made of -tiger's eye, blue jade sun gods and eagles carved in golden obsidian. It was like a miniature, tactile vision quest.
Gutierrez was born in Los Angeles but spent much of his childhood in Colima, Mexico. His father's family is from Michoacán and his mother's is from Jalisco. Colima is nestled in the middle.
"My dad wanted us to have a clear -notion of our background so he took us to Mexico for school," Gutierrez says. "When I went back to [Los Angeles] for high school and people asked where I was from and what was my background, I understood our dad had taken us there so we would know ourselves and be present in the fact that we are Mexican and be part of our heritage."
Gutierrez's family in Mexico are -primarily ranchers and often, while working the land, they'd find artifacts from the period of history before the arrival of Europeans. When he was 9, Gutierrez says, his father gave him his first pre-Columbian piece, and thus began his lifelong passion.
In 2010, Gutierrez joined the San Diego Mineral & Gem Society and began learning the basics of stonework. At the same time, he volunteered for a nonprofit that found him traveling across Mexico and developing friendships with the master stone carvers with which he collaborates today.
"They were working with the pre–Columbian aesthetic I loved," Gutierrez explains. "I started improvising with that aesthetic, and little by little, it -became part of my style. I was just making them for myself, but people started asking me where they could get it."
Cut back to last year's International Folk Art Market and Gutierrez walking into World of Bohemia by chance. Owner Kris Lajeskie immediately fell in love with the designs he was wearing and asked if he could make a jewelry line for her to carry in the shop.
"Fernando visited the store several times late last summer and I was captivated by the Mayan-inspired jewelry and stones he was wearing," Lajeskie tells SFR. "I learned his dream was to launch his own line, and and that's exactly what we did."
Considering the nature of the designs—Aztec and Mayan gods, Quetzalcoatls, Mayan eagles and jaguars—it's fitting the creation process takes on a somewhat mythic quality.
"My process of creation is very -spiritual and tantric," Gutierrez -explains. "I surrender to the experience to be in the moment."
Summer also found Gutierrez visiting Abiquiu to work on his collection. He spent eight sleepless and secluded days working on pieces of amber and jade he mined himself in Simojovel and Chenalhó, Chiapas, Mexico between 2011 and 2013. Pedernal loomed each day in the background.
"It's even better than the view from Georgia O'Keeffe's ranch," Gutierrez says of the trip. "I felt so privileged to have that space where I could work and be inspired without cell phone -reception. It was just me and nature."
On the eighth day, Gutierrez -rested and named his brand with help from Lajeskie: Eye of the Jaguar.
"I had met a shaman in Oaxaca years before who had given me an Aztec calendar reading and told me that the lizard and the jaguar are the animals that represent me," he tells SFR.
Back in Santa Fe, he says, people have been so receptive to his work that his original two-week pop-up at World of Bohemia has turned into a six-month artist residency. Part of it, he says, could be in how he crafts his work with an eye toward both the past and present.
"It's a very well-defined collection because it speaks about my heritage and the history of my ancestors—pre–Columbian and Mesoamerican cultures," he says. "A lot of the carvings are related to the Mayans, Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. I tend to use the traditional stones that were used in pre-Columbian times and make more contemporary designs by adding stones I think they would have used back then. So my work is a combination of the pre-Columbian aesthetic and the newer fascination with crystals and their healing properties."
Gutierrez' latest large-scale piece is a representation of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of earthly fertility and of water.
"I wanted to make something for the new year that would represent the flourishing of things to come," Gutierrez says. "It's usually represented in blue stone but since we are in Santa Fe where it snows, I made it white."